Lowering the Minimum Wage for Students is Not What Arizona Needs, Deserves or Wants

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As someone who’s lived in Arizona his whole life, I’ve seen many of the great strides we’ve made firsthand. People are flocking to Phoenix because of its growth, with the expectation of 100,000 more residents in 2019. Bill Gates’ Belmont Project is going to be an oasis of green solutions in the desert. ASU expects unemployment to dip below 4% this year. The SkyBridge project is going to make the state one of the key points of entry for imports between the U.S. and Mexico.

Surely these are signs Arizona is moving forward? Not according to State Rep. Travis Grantham.

House Bill 2523, proposed by Grantham, would lower the minimum wage to federal levels for full-time college students. Instead of being paid Arizona’s minimum wage of $11 per hour, full-time college students could see their wages lowered to $7.25 per hour.

According to Grantham, this bill would create opportunities for full-time students in high school and college and lead to more jobs.

Does Grantham have a point? Somewhat.

Arizona’s youth unemployment is not outside of the norm. The national average in 2016 was estimated at 10%, while Arizona was actually at 11% unemployment. Slightly higher than average. But an unemployment rate in the double digits is a problem.

While I commend Grantham for bringing this issue to light, the way he is handling it is beyond the comprehension of any logical or reasonable human being.

College students walk onto campus with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Should a student decide to put money now towards paying them off, they can’t. With a lower minimum wage, they will just be concerned about making ends meet. Not every student lives on a college campus or with their parents. Grantham clearly failed to consider how students living on their own will be able to get ahead with a lower minimum wage.

With a lower minimum wage, the gig economy we live in now will only get worse. The gig economy is a recent trend favoring short-term employment, shrinking benefits and lower wages. Uber, Lyft, Veyo and jobs in retail and food service are the types of jobs the gig economy favors.

How will this bill create economic growth? It won’t in a gig economy. The gig economy is short-term profit instead of a long-term investment in growth for the individual, the market and society as a whole. Working a gig doesn’t earn you the money to buy a new car, a new TV, or afford a better house. It pays the bills you have now. The people who work gigs can’t contribute to economic growth if they’re just focused on paying the same bills and living paycheck to paycheck. The spending power of a gig worker is considerably lower compared to a blue- or white-collar worker.

Rep. Travis Grantham, in attempting to create opportunity will do the exact opposite with this bill. Lowering earnings for young people will discourage them from staying in this state and contributing to its potential in being a leader in the Southwest. The brain-drain will worsen and the growth we see right now will eventually stagnate after so much effort has been put into jumpstarting it.

Is that what Arizonians truly want?